The Education Gadfly The Education Gadfly A Bulletin of Weekly News and Analysis from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Volume 11, Number 46. December 1, 2011.

In This Edition

New from Fordham: Rethinking Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century

School reforms abound today, yet even the boldest and most imaginative of them have produced—at best—marginal gains in student achievement. Instead of shoveling yet more policies, programs, and practices into our current system, we must tackle head-on the obstacles to reform posed by existing structures, governance arrangements, and power relationships. To that end, Fordham and the Center for American Progress have commissioned fourteen top-flight thinkers to probe the structural impediments to school reform and to offer provocative alternatives. Read the papers here and watch our conference discussions on the papers—going on now—here.
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Opinion and Analysis

Too many cooks, too many kitchens
And too many people who can say “no soup for you”
Opinion | Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli

Two steps forward, one step back
Charterin' ain't easy
Opinion | Terry Ryan and Kathryn Mullen Upton

How dollars flow down Santa Monica Boulevard
A funding-philosophy battle royale
News Analysis

Not “truly stupid”
We’re talking work study, not coal mining
News Analysis

Romancing the stone
A charter-like governance arrangement for LAUSD
News Analysis

Rockin' the suburbs
Middle-class parents deserve choice, too
News Analysis

Short Reviews

Does School Autonomy Make Sense Everywhere? Panel Estimates from PISA
Which came first, development or autonomy?
Review | Tyson Eberhardt

Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life
America: Take notes
Review | Laura Johnson

Testimony on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to Students, Parents, and Educators
Russ Whitehurst, pulling no punches
Review | Chester E. Finn, Jr.

From The Web

Ending the AEI lockout
Brought to you by the letter G
Education Gadfly Show Podcast | Hosts: Mike Petrilli and Rick Hess

Ohio needs competition and high standards to elevate its digital-learning marketplace
Rhetoric needs to meet reality
Flypaper's Finest | November 28, 2011 | Terry Ryan

The future of educational accountability, as envisioned by eleven leading states
Out with AYP, in with the new
Flypaper's Finest | November 22, 2011 | Mike Petrilli


Breakdown in Blighty
Interactive websites are the best!
Briefly Noted

Putting quality in the driver’s seat
Learn how charter-school incubators could change the world on December 7

Fordham, Koch, and you
We’re looking for next year’s Koch fellow

Hail to the Buckeye Institute chief
Columbus-based think tank needs a new president

Have a happy hour!
Fight for Children networking event on December 7

America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents
Where to place your reform Petri dish
Featured Fordham Publication

Opinion and News Analysis

Opinion: Too many cooks, too many kitchens
By Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli

Click to watch the webcast of our event on education governanceDespite America’s romantic attachment to “local control of public education,” the reality is that the way it works today offers a worst-of-both-worlds scenario. On the one hand, district-level power constrains individual schools; its standardizing, bureaucratic, and political force ties the hands of principals, stopping them from doing what’s best for their pupils with regard to budget, staffing, and curriculum. On the other, local control isn’t strong enough to clear the obstacles that state and federal governments place before reform-minded board members and superintendents in the relatively few locales where these can even be observed.

Sure, remarkable individuals can sometimes make it work, at least for a while: Michelle Rhee (backed by Adrian Fenty) in the District of Columbia; Joel Klein (backed by Michael Bloomberg) in New York City; Arne Duncan (backed by Richard Daley) in Chicago; Jerry Weast (abetted by a rising budget) in Montgomery County, Maryland. Readers can surely cite additional examples. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

The rule is that education-policy decisions are made in so many places—each with some capacity to initiate change but with even greater capacity to block it—that there’s really nobody “in charge.” Some will say that’s a tribute to our traditions of democratic control, checks and balances, pluralism, and federalism. Others will say it’s just a mighty wasteful and ineffectual way to run a system that is widely believed to need a thorough makeover.

Some have described education governance in the United States as a “layer cake,” others as a “marble cake” (because the jurisdictions and zones of control of different governments and agencies are so jumbled). Still others favor the image of a “loosely coupled train” where movement at one end doesn’t necessarily produce any motion at the other. We find a more apt analogy in a vast restaurant or food court with multiple kitchens, each thronged with many cooks, yet with no head chef in command of even a single establishment much less the entire enterprise.

It’s well past time to rethink, re-imagine, and reinvent education governance for the twenty-first century.


Consider so seemingly straightforward a decision as which teacher will be employed to fill a seventh-grade opening at the Lincoln School, located in, let us say, Metropolis, West Carolina. One might suppose that Lincoln’s principal, or perhaps the school’s top instructional staff, should decide which candidate is likeliest to succeed in that particular classroom. But under the typical circumstance, the most the principal might be able to do is veto wholly unsuitable candidates. (And often not that, considering seniority and “bumping rights” within districts, their collective-bargaining contracts and, frequently, state law.) The superintendent’s HR office does most of the vetting and placing, but it is shackled by the contract, by state licensure practices (which may be set by an “independent”—and probably union and ed-school dominated—professional-standards board), by seniority rules that are probably enshrined in both contract and state law, and by uniform salary schedules that mean the new teacher (assuming similar “credentials”) will be paid the same fixed amount whether the subject most needed at Lincoln is math or music.

Washington gets into the act, too, with “highly qualified teacher” requirements that constrain the school. By the end of the process, at least a dozen different governing units impede the principal’s authority to staff his school with the ablest (and best suited) teachers available.

And teacher selection is but one of many examples of the “too many cooks” problem. Much the same litany can be invoked for special education, for the budgeting and control of a school’s funds, or for approved approaches to school discipline. (Not to mention a more literal “too many cooks” issue: What to serve for lunch in the school cafeteria?)

What great leader or change-agent would want to become a school principal under these circumstances? Or a local superintendent? Or even a teacher? Well, maybe in a comfy (and probably smug) suburban setting. But not in the places that most need outstanding talent.

No, American education doesn’t need czars or dictators. Separation-of-powers and checks-and-balances are important elements of our democracy. Kids and communities do differ and there needs to be flexibility in the system to adapt and adjust to singular circumstances, changing priorities, and dissimilar needs. But today, our public-education system lacks flexibility and nimbleness of all sorts. Surely that’s not what the founders—or Horace Mann—had in mind. And it’s most definitely not what our children need.

It’s well past time to rethink, re-imagine, and reinvent education governance for the twenty-first century. We’d better get moving.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on the today's education-governance system from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.


Opinion: Two steps forward, one step back
By Terry Ryan and Kathryn Mullen Upton

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back cover image

Since Ohio’s first charter schools opened in 1997, they have been at the center of some of the state’s hottest and most politically contentious debates about education. The past year brought still more examples of charter-linked controversy.

The 2010 elections were very good for Buckeye Republicans, with John Kasich winning the governor’s race (replacing Ted Strickland who had been a charter adversary throughout his four-year term). Republicans also took control of the House while expanding their Senate majority.

Almost immediately, GOP lawmakers set out to make the Buckeye State more inviting to charter schools. Governor Kasich’s budget proposals offered a solid plan for not only increasing the number of charters in Ohio but also boosting their quality. Crucial elements included:

  • Encouraging successful operators to clone good schools and channeling fairer funding into them;
  • Leaning hard on authorizers to fix or close failing schools and banning their replication; and
  • Placing schools’ ostensibly independent governing boards clearly in charge of any outside organizations that they engaged to run their education programs.

This vision for quality along with quantity excited us and many others in Ohio and beyond. The Buckeye State was finally positioning itself to become a true leader in the charter sector rather than a troubled sector plagued by too many mediocre schools.

Then the House issued its version of the budget in April and with it came an enormous risk that charter advocates in Ohio would again shoot themselves in the foot—and their pupils in the heart. The House proposal, pushed by friends of school choice, sought to neutralize authorizers (including Fordham) and governing boards in the name of efficiency on behalf of well-heeled, profit-maximizing school operators. The House’s budget would have done away with any meaningful accountability for school operators just when it seemed like we might finally move in the right direction.

We were not the only ones upset by this. The larger charter-school community rallied around the need for charter quality in Ohio: The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, among others, denounced the House bill.

After much political jockeying and uncertainty, the Senate agreed with the critics and ultimately purged most of the troubling language from the bill, but not without conflict, late nights, much sweat, and plenty of spent political capital.

Ohio’s charter-school law came out of the budget sausage-maker stronger on some fronts but weaker on others. Improvements included requiring all charter schools and their authorizers to be rated by their academic Performance Index (PI) scores. Henceforth, authorizers with the lowest-achieving 20 percent of students according to the PI cannot open new schools until they improve or close the ones they have. Further, the budget allows new charter schools to open in all bottom-five-percent districts. (Previously, Ohio confined charter start-ups to just the Big Eight school districts—the state’s largest eight cities—and those districts rated Academic Emergency and Academic Watch.)

Unfortunately, the law also requires the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to directly sponsor charter schools once again. (The legislature fired it from that same role in 2003 after a blistering report from the then-Auditor of State chronicling the many failings of the department as a sponsor.) There is no evidence that the department or its board wants the job of authorizing schools; in fact, they now find themselves facing potential conflicts of interest, the most bizarre of which is that the agency’s Office of Community Schools must now hold the same agency’s Office of School Sponsorship accountable for the performance of its schools and take corrective action against itself as needed. Far better would be to have the department continue to eschew direct sponsorship while giving it the resources and mandates to hold all authorizers accountable for the performance of their schools. One can only assume that ODE was put back into the role of sponsor because some operators felt they will authorize schools and not be too demanding or persnickety about performance.

Fordham’s charter-school portfolio: Improving schools—but not fast enough

In this uncertain environment, Fordham has continued to operate as a charter-school authorizer, a role it has performed in Ohio since July 2005. Fordham took on this responsibility, and continues to embrace it, because we believe there was—and still is—a dearth of quality authorizers in the state. We also felt that we could help recruit some decent models to needy neighborhoods and support the expansion and growth of some of those already here. It has been a tough six years, which we chronicled last year in Ohio’s Education Reform Challenges: Lessons from the Frontlines.

Since Fordham first started as an authorizer, our sponsorship portfolio has evolved considerably. We began with ten schools (all in the Dayton-Cincinnati area) that collectively served about 2,700 students—all but three of which we inherited from the Ohio Department of Education after it was booted from sponsorship in 2003. Most of them were academically troubled. Since then, we’ve had six schools leave our portfolio, either through closure or by jumping to other sponsors; we’ve opened one new school only to see it close after a year; and we’ve successfully birthed two new schools. We currently sponsor only four of the ten schools that originally signed with Fordham in 2005.

How did Fordham’s own schools fare in 2010-11? Five of six Fordham-sponsored schools made academic gains in 2010-11. Three were rated Effective (equivalent under the Ohio accountability system to a grade of B), two Continuous Improvement (C), and one Academic Watch (D). Still, while we don’t currently have any schools in Academic Emergency, 11 percent of the students in our portfolio were enrolled in a D-rated school (Springfield Academy of Excellence). Fifty-two percent attended schools rated C while 37 percent attended schools that earned Bs. This puts us somewhere in the upper-middle of sponsors in Ohio. Good, but not good enough.

When it comes to academic value-added by schools, 57 percent of students in Fordham schools made “above expected” growth in 2010-11, using Ohio’s relatively generous (and rather opaque) system for making such calculations. However, 38 percent did not meet expected growth in 2010-11. Compared to the other nine largest authorizers (by number of students), Fordham claims the highest percentage of students making “above expected” growth—but also the third highest percentage of students falling in the “below expected” category. Again: good, but not good enough.

In Ohio’s Big Eight cities, approximately 80 percent of schools (district and charter) were able to help their students meet or exceed expected value-added gains, but less than five percent (twenty-five out of 510) hit the state’s PI-score target.

Ohio’s urban schools have done a decent job of meeting or exceeding value-added growth, but few are reaching state proficiency expectations. We believe this is in part because Ohio’s accountability system has been watered down over the years to make it easier on schools to meet or exceed state expectations and receive decent ratings. This is in fact a belief shared by state superintendent Stan Heffner who has, to his credit, been traveling the state and making the case that Ohio’s current accountability system is plagued by grade inflation.  

Sobered and a bit battered, Fordham continues as an authorizer of Ohio charter schools, and a vigorous participant in the state’s larger education policy debates. We’re constantly exploring new options including, at this writing, working to help some high-quality schools in Ohio expand their efforts (we expect to authorize two new start-ups in 2012 and two more in 2013). Meanwhile, we’ve learned a lot about how hard all of this work is to do well, stymied further if state legislation is poorly written, and we think it critical to share the lessons along the way – even those lessons we might not really have wanted to learn.


News Analysis: How dollars flow down Santa Monica Boulevard

moolah photo

It's my money; I'll do what I want.
Photo by sushi♥ina

Do well-heeled parents have the right to heap donations on their students’ public schools to pay for teacher aids, extra library hours, or a media lab? Of course—though, as the Los Angeles Times explains, expect a fight. This week’s example comes from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, where the PTA at one Malibu elementary school adds over $2,100 per pupil to the school’s coffers compared with a mere $96 raised at another district elementary twenty miles down the road. The school board is mulling a plan to centralize all PTA donations, allowing for more equitable student funding. Our position on school financing is clear: Funding formulas should include weights that ensure that more public resources be allotted to higher-need students. But, when it comes to private dollars, districts and states should tread carefully. If parents want to donate more, so be it. Barring wealthy parents from education-related giving will only push them to invest instead in private extracurriculars—or even private schools—thus completely undermining the equity-based intentions of the embargo. Instead of this tack, here’s another solution for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District: Ride the current wave of “philanthropy philosophy.” (Think: TOMS Shoes, in which you purchase one item for yourself at a higher cost, so that the second can be donated.) Or go one further, adopt a “sister schools” policy—look to D.C. for an example here—linking wealthy schools (and their donations) to a less affluent building. All in all, that would be pretty close to a win-win.

Click to play

Click to hear more ideas on how to handle private donations to public schools from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.

Public Schools, Private Donations,” Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2011.


News Analysis: Not "truly stupid"

hammer photo

If I had a hammer...
Photo by TheFixer

Newt Gingrich has issued some crazy statements since he first took public office in 1979. Yet his latest claim—that we shouldn’t be “entrapping kids in…child labor laws, which are truly stupid”—isn’t one of them. In a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Gingrich suggested a “work study” program for K-12 education: Students could provide low-cost alternatives to unionized janitors, giving these youngsters work experience, money, and pride in their schools. This proposal to slacken child-labor laws has drawn plenty of headlines, and even more scorn. But there’s something to his logic. Nonprofits like YouthBuild and the ISUS charters in Dayton, OH, in which students work to complete high school while learning construction skills already offer successful models of dual academic/job-training programs. The Cristo Rey network of Catholic schools allows their low-income students to offset tuition costs—and gain practical job skills—through once-a-week corporate internships. These models provide more than a paycheck and some on-the-job carpentry or accounting skills: They give students a better sense of the working world than any personal-finance or economics course ever could. Gadfly isn’t advocating for eight-year-olds to don hard hats on Alaska’s oil pipeline—and he doubts that’s what Newt had in mind, either. But there’s value in skills training and career preparation. Be careful not to blithely dismiss creative ideas like this.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on Gingrich's plan from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.

Newt Gingrich: Child Labor Laws are ‘Stupid’,” Huffington Post, November 21, 2011.

Gingrich: Changing Child Labor Laws Would Improve Schools,” Education Week, November 22, 2011.


News Analysis: Romancing the stone

For months, leaders from LAUSD and the UTLA have stalled within a deep tunnel of negotiations, unable to reach consensus on, well, anything. This week, light broke at the end of that dark passageway: Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy and the newly elected union president, Warren Fletcher, have reached a partial agreement. And it’s an exciting one: Under the new pact, district schools could exercise charter-like autonomy over hiring, curriculum, and work conditions. If a school wants to diverge from current norms by, say, altering its salary structure or length of day, neither union nor district officials can object. (Take note of this innovative approach for combating union strong-arming: Pitch the reforms to teachers as a respite from meddling district policies, not just cumbersome union ones.) So, what catalyzed this union change of heart? Pressure from charter schools—which hold a 10 percent market share of L.A.’s student enrollment. According to Fletcher, “There’s been a lot of focus on out-of-district resources and answers. This is the beginning of moving back to some semblance of balance.” Before the agreement becomes official, though, it must be ratified by union membership. Here’s hoping; what a worthy experiment that would be.

Individual Los Angeles Schools Gain New Autonomy,” by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2011.


News Analysis: Rockin' the suburbs

blueprint photo

Check the original charter-school blueprint.
Specs say "choice for all."
Photo by Will Scullin

As originally conceived twenty years ago, charter schools were to offer alternatives to the traditional public-school model—maybe Betsy wants a school that focuses more on drama than the football team or Davey wants one that prioritizes STEM learning. Somewhere along the way, however, many states restricted charters to “high need” communities awash in disadvantaged kids and failing schools. As a result, seventy percent of charter students are on free-or-reduced-price lunch, and most charters are urban. But that’s starting to change. Greater numbers of suburban students are venturing into the halls of charter schools—central Ohio alone had more than 10,000 suburban and rural students attend charter schools last year—sparking what Fordham’s Terry Ryan dubbed a “second generation” of charters. And it couldn’t come fast enough. Like their urban counterparts, kiddos in suburbia deserve the ability to choose schools that are right for them. Just ask any of the original architects of the charter theory.

Charter schools lure suburban kids, too,” by Jennifer Smith Richards, The Columbus Dispatch, November 27, 2011.


Short Reviews

Review: Does School Autonomy Make Sense Everywhere? Panel Estimates from PISA
By Tyson Eberhardt

As education governance rises on the policy agenda, should American reformers be looking toward greater decentralization or centralization—or a judicious mix of both? Eric Hanushek, Susanne Link, and Ludger Woessmann argue that, in a country like the U.S., greater school-level autonomy offers the best shot at boosting student achievement. Using the four available rounds of PISA data (2000-09), the trio compared achievement in forty-two countries with their levels of school-based autonomy, as reported by principals. (Specifically, they analyzed autonomy of academic content, personnel decisions, and budget allocations.) Dividing the countries up by GDP per capita, the authors find that developed nations tend to see spikes in student achievement when school autonomy increases, while scores in developing countries drop with greater decentralization. Autonomy works when local leaders have both an interest in making decisions that benefit students and the capacity to do so. The stronger governmental institutions and the rule of law, the logic goes, the more likely leaders are to align their interests with those of their students. Thus, in richer countries, pairing greater autonomy with test-based accountability magnified the bump in scores. In short, how education is governed matters for students. But we told you that already.

Click to play

Click to listen to commentary on this NBER paper from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.

Eric A. Hanushek, Susanne Link, Ludgar Woessmann, “Does School Autonomy Make Sense Everywhere? Panel Estimates from PISA” (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2011).


Review: Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life
By Laura Johnson

Schooling in the Workplace cover imageIn February, the “college-for-all” movement was dealt a mighty blow with the publication of Harvard GSE’s Pathways to Prosperity report. This new book from Nancy Hoffman, VP of Jobs for the Future, offers yet another forceful whack. (Insider power-couple scoop: Ms. Hoffman is married to a lead author of Pathways.) Though a seemingly admirable crusade, she contends, “college for all” is ill-advised for a country interested in having an “appropriately skilled and employed workforce.” (It’s also an anomalous goal, not shared by other countries.) As Hoffman explains, unemployment rates currently soar, even as employers complain of difficulty finding candidates with the right skill set. Americans have often shied away from promoting Vocational Education and Training (VET) programming, viewing it as classist, even elitist—a system that perpetuates social and fiscal disparities. However, strong VET initiatives in other nations are redefining post-secondary options for students. These programs are thoughtful, rigorous pathways to careers—no longer the “throwaway” tracks for the least effective students. And they seem to be effective: In Switzerland, 42 percent of students attaining the highest scores on the PISA exam chose VET enrollment. High-performing Australia enrolls about 60 percent of its eleventh- and twelfth-year students in VET programs. Through six case studies, Hoffman articulates lessons for America as we think through expanding our own work-based learning programs. The biggest: Ensure constant employer participation in curricula and certification development and in apprenticeship placements. For those ready to revisit the “college-for-all” mandate, this book provides a useful starting point.

Nancy Hoffman, Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life (Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, MA, 2011).


Review: Testimony on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to Students, Parents, and Educators
By Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Most of the time, Congressional hearings on federal education research are just an opportunity for various interested parties to plead for more money. A couple of weeks back, however, Rep. Duncan Hunter and the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held an unusually candid and (I hope) fruitful review of this crucial but not-very-sexy policy domain. Terrific witness list. And outstanding testimony by former IES director Russ Whitehurst, now of Brookings, who did more than defend his own solid track record in that role. He pulled no punches regarding research quality (needs to be raised, not lowered), the American Educational Research Association (another self-interested and greedy lobby), the (complex but crucial) relationship between IES and the rest of the Education Department, and the hopelessness of the regional education laboratories. He also urged Congress not to “try to dictate how states and LEAs should use findings from research,” about which he’s mostly right. What he might not be right about are the late, lamented Reading First program and the future relationship between IES and the National Center for Education Statistics. Have a look for yourself.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Testimony on the Federal Role in Education Research: Providing Relevant Information to Students, Parents, and Educators (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, November 16, 2011).


From The Web

The Education Gadfly Show Podcast: Ending the AEI lockout

Mike and Rick come out swinging after their Thanksgiving respites. In Pardon the Gadfly, they attack our current governance model, sympathize with Newt Gingrich, and consider what to do about private donations to public schools. Amber brings autonomy down to the school level and Chris requests a State of State Moral Standards.

The Education Gadfly
Click to listen to the podcast on our website. You can also download the podcast here or subscribe on iTunes here.


Flypaper's Finest: Ohio needs competition and high standards to elevate its digital-learning marketplace
By Terry Ryan

One could argue that 2011 has been the year of “digital learning” across America, but in fact digital learning has been big business in Ohio for more than a decade. Lessons from that experience should inform the Buckeye State’s approach to new digital-learning opportunities that are generating excitement and optimism.… 

These opportunities offer ways to help teachers and parents do a better job of educating children—and at less cost. But those promises have been on the table for a long time. Indeed, it was this dual promise that encouraged lawmakers in Ohio and other states to birth statewide e-schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The best known of these is the Florida Virtual School, which now educates over 120,000 students from across Florida and forty-nine other states.

Ohio took a different approach than Florida. Instead of a single statewide e-school, it created a marketplace of e-schools…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.


Flypaper's Finest: The future of educational accountability, as envisioned by eleven leading states
By Mike Petrilli

Last week, eleven states applied for waivers from many of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act’s most onerous provisions. Their applications are now online, ready to be sliced and diced by any willing wonk.…

So what do these eleven states want to do differently on the accountability front? Particularly when it comes to identifying schools that should be subject to some sort of sanctions or interventions? Here’s what the future holds if the Department of Education gives its assent…

The Education Gadfly
Click to read the rest on Flypaper.



Briefly Noted: Breakdown in Blighty

  • Think pension reform has been hard going in the States? Yesterday, two-thirds of Britain’s schools (along with a host of other public-sector entities, agencies, and offices) shuttered their doors, as Blighty saw its largest strike in decades. The grievance? Westminster is now asking workers to retire later and pay more in pension contributions. A sign of things to come?
  • Be still Gadfly’s geeky heart. Brookings recently rolled out its Education Choice and Competition Index—an interactive website for tracking and comparing districts based on thirteen categories of education policy and practice. A lot like our own America’s Best (and Worst) Cities report—but still a lot of fun, and potentially enlightening about what is and isn’t educationally worthy in your community.
  • Gadfly sees Christmas lights and hears the faint jingle of the Salvation Army bell. It must be the holiday season. And with it, the season for end-of-the-year best-and-worst lists. To start you off, here’s the best and worst education events of 2011, according to Hoover’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. (For their sake, here’s hoping nothing monumental happens in December.)
  • By 2015, Teach For America could hold one-quarter market share of all teachers in America’s sixty largest cities. Why aren’t more reformy entrepreneurs trying to copy this model?
  • Interesting, but none too surprising: Teacher-union membership in Tennessee is way down since state lawmakers stripped the groups’ collective-bargaining rights.
  • Sure lessons from abroad are good to note. But, remember, America is still the most innovative country in the world.


Announcement: Putting quality in the driver’s seat

Parents thirst for high-quality school options from every sector, including charters. Yet, too few new charters offer the top-notch education that students deserve. To quench this thirst, a new model for charter growth, “incubation,” has emerged in several cities, with the potential to boost both quality and quantity. Interested in learning more? Join us on December 7 from 3:30 to 5:00PM as we hear from leaders who are running some of the best of these new organizations. To find out more, or to register, head here. (The keen-minded folks at Public Impact will be unveiling a report about the topic at the event as well.)


Announcement: Fordham, Koch, and you

Young libertarians with a soft spot for education reform: Listen up! Apply for an internship with Fordham this summer through the Koch Summer Fellow Program, sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies. You’ll gain state policy experience through public-policy seminars and will work with a cool clowder of cats. Find out more here. Applications are due January 31.


Announcement: Hail to the Buckeye Institute chief

Sure, the Gadfly makes many a convincing point. But education is just one piece of the public-policy puzzle, right? For those who found themselves nodding to this notion, the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Columbus, OH based free-market think tank, is looking for a new president. If you’re up to lead the charge to revitalize Ohio through research on collective bargaining, pension reform, and transparency, click here for more information.


Announcement: Have a happy hour!

Care about the kids of Washington, D.C.? Love to schmooze it up with like-minded folks? Can’t wait to bust out that tacky holiday sweater? Join Fight for Children for a happy hour on December 7 from 6:00 to 8:00PM. (It’s right after our event; perfect timing!) Click here to buy tickets.



Featured Fordham Publication: America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents

America's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform cover

This study from the Fordham Institute tackles a key question: Which of thirty major U.S. cities have cultivated a healthy environment for school reform to flourish (and which have not)? Nine reform-friendly locales surged to the front: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth. Trailing far behind were San Jose, San Diego, Albany, Philadelphia, Gary, and Detroit. Read on to learn more.


The Education Gadfly is published weekly (ordinarily on Thursdays), with occasional breaks, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Regular contributors include Tyson Eberhardt, Daniela Fairchild, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Chris Irvine, Michael Ishimoto, Laura Johnson, Matthew C. Kyle, Jamie Davies O’Leary, Emmy Partin, Michael J. Petrilli, Terry Ryan, Janie Scull, Bianca Speranza, Chris Tessone, and Amber Winkler. Have something to say? Email us at Find archived issues or other reviews of reports and books here.

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The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization that conducts research, issues publications, and directs action projects in elementary and secondary education reform at the national level and in Ohio, with a special emphasis on our hometown of Dayton. (For Ohio news, check out our Ohio Education Gadfly, published bi-weekly, ordinarily on Wednesdays.) The Institute is neither connected with nor sponsored by Fordham University.

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